[Warning: This article contains major spoilers from the season premiere of The Mentalist. Read at your own risk!]
Red John is back with a vengeance on The Mentalist. The serial killer who has made a game out of tormenting Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) promised Jane in the Season 5 finale that he was going to start killing again until Jane captured him — or vice versa. And he didn't waste any time in sticking to his word.
By the end of the Season 6 premiere, Red John has lured Jane's partner, Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) to a house, where she discovers his latest victim: Brett Partridge (Jack Plotnick). (Guess we can officially eliminate Partridge as a Red John suspect! One down, six to go.) Seconds after a dying Partridge spits out Red John's poetic calling card, "Tiger, Tiger," Lisbon herself is snatched by John.
The episode ends with Red John using Lisbon's phone to call Jane, and painting his signature smiley face in blood over Lisbon's (unconscious? dead?) face. TVGuide.com asked Mentalist creator Bruno Heller to weigh in on the game-changing season premiere. What's Jane's next move? Is Gale Bertram (Michael Gaston) now the prime suspect? And what's the hidden clue in the final scenes? Read our Q&A with Heller below to find out:
Well, no one can say Season 6 is off to a slow start! Why the decision to kick off the season with such a cliff-hanger?
Heller: Things are happening essentially in real time, and it's the final showdown. So as promised last season, Red John is getting active again and things are going to go all guns firing until the denouement, for sure. It had to be that way. And it's great fun making it that way. These last few episodes have been such fun to make, because up to now, we've been taking tiny baby steps towards the truth. Now the light at the end of the tunnel is coming closer. For the writers and actors, it's immensely exciting.
There is a clue buried in that final sequence that will pay off big time in the finale of the Red John story. A very big clue. No one will get it from the clue as it is laid out in the episode, but it will pay off later.
Going back to the beginning of the episode, we see Lisbon and Jane struggling with hiding their suspicions, particularly about Bertram, as they continue to do their jobs. Assuming Lisbon is still alive, is this a struggle that will continue for the rest of the season?
Heller: Not for the rest of the season, but it's certainly a problem for these first few episodes. How do you confront these people when they know what you know, but you don't know which one of these seven people is your man? They very much have to get into each one of these suspects' business and to look and them and to investigate them and to spend time with them. So, it's a game of cat and mouse. It's not clear who's the cat and who's the mouse.
Bertram taunts Jane and Lisbon about getting close to Red John and says coyly, "I am many things to many people." That exchange certainly casts a lot of suspicion on Bertram.
Heller: Yes, it does. He's a very suspicious character, and those suspicions are not without foundation. [But] they're not necessarily the foundation that we think they are. One of the things that is going to be revealed in these next few episodes is that there is a whole lot more going wrong in California law enforcement than simply Red John. And Bertram is both a prime suspect as Red John, but also deeply involved in that other plot.
So his motivations for sending Lisbon and Jane away may have nothing to do with Red John?
Heller: He might be a good guy with a secret agenda, or he might be a bad guy with a secret agenda.
Lisbon tells Jane he seems like he doesn't know what to do next. Knowing Red John has the list of seven names seems to have really shaken him up.
Heller: Every time Red John has fooled him or tricked him before, Jane has been able to work out, at least in theory, if not in practice, how it was done. Jane is a magician himself, and magicians pride themselves on knowing how tricks work. There's no such thing as magic. It's a trick. But here's a trick that's been played on him that he simply can not work out how he did it. And that really does throw him for a loop, because in his arrogance and pride, Jane has ... never contemplated the notion that this guy could be that much smarter than him. And it raises the issue that Lisbon raises that Jane dismisses as strongly as he can. ... Maybe he is psychic. What if Red John is the real deal? That's kind of a mind-blower for Jane, and he really doesn't want to grapple with that. But he has to, because how the hell did he do that otherwise? That's what confronts Jane and that's what sort of paralyzes him, to a degree.
Was it a good move for Lisbon to tell Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) about the Red John suspects?
Heller: It was both the right move and the wrong move. She's a cop and she has to do what a cop would do. When Jane seems to be unable to work out what to do next, just as Red John's revelation about the list is shocking for Jane, Jane's shock is shocking to Lisbon. So she falls back on her training and protocol and procedure. And it starts to open up a fissure between Jane and Lisbon, because the closer they get to Red John, the more the fundamental differences between them become clear. As long as Red John was a sort of theoretical target, the differences in the way they go about their business could be papered over. But now we're getting to a point where Lisbon's moral code and her professional code, and Jane's willingness to do any damn thing required, comes to a crunch.
As Jane and Lisbon get closer to solving the mystery of Red John, what effect does the case have on their personal relationship?
Heller: They start imagining what life would be like after Red John, and a great deal of the buried emotions between them are coming out. They've always been very much in a brother and sister relationship. But they're not brother and sister. Both of them are discovering feelings about the other one that they didn't really know they had, because there's been this overarching mission that they're both on that has masked that. Now those feelings are starting to bubble up to the surface. Especially for Lisbon ... now that she's looking to the future and can visualize a world in which they're not chasing Red John together, she's looking at the prospect of finding Red John but losing Jane. Because clearly after Red John is captured, Jane is not going to be wandering around Sacramento solving homicides. He was there long enough to do this job, so now things are going to be different. Although she can't articulate it to herself, she's beginning to feel the pangs of separation. Jane himself is going to get glimmers of his old self back, his old life, and that brings up the same issues for him.
Is it fair to say that if Jane catches Red John, he'd also destroy a part of himself?
Heller: What we'll be dealing with after that is very much about, what happens when you achieve your heart's desire, but what your heart desired was something very dark? He's going to be satisfying bloodlust. I guess he is making the world safer for other people, but that's not his motivation. His motivation is personal, angry, hate-filled revenge. Jane has always had that dark rage inside him, but he's made it a point of pride never to show that. He always seems graceful and light on his feet and full of positivity, but he's been driven by this dark force. And once that cloud is lifted from him, it's both joyful and baffling, because what do you do next? And how are you changed by doing something like that?
At the end of the episode, Partridge is dead and Red John has Lisbon. What's Jane thinking in that moment when he gets the phone call from Red John?
Heller: He's both incredibly guilty for allowing Lisbon to go off on her own and also, as usual with Jane, thinking, "Dammit, I knew I was right. I knew you were wrong. You really screwed up now." And that moment of realizing that he has put Lisbon (or Lisbon has put herself) in such great danger is also illuminating for him, because I think at that moment he's realizing ... this is someone I love, and I have put her into the hands of a very evil man. And that's my fault. So for him, it's a quiet but stunning realization that she's not just a colleague, but someone he can't live without. And also it doubles down on his desire to kill the man that's done this.
What did you think of the season premiere of The Mentalist? Could Lisbon really be dead? What should Jane do from here? And who is Red John? Sound off below!
The Mentalist airs Sundays at 10/9c on CBS.
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